Australia’s best female state cricketers will more than double their earnings in the 2015-16 season after Cricket Australia announced a significant pay increase.
A $600,000 investment from CA and the state and territory associations will see the payments of the top domestic players rise to $17,000.
In addition to domestic payments, CA-contracted cricketers can earn retainers of more than $50,000 – plus tour payments – meaning leading players could now earn up to $85,000 over the coming year.
CA chief executive James Sutherland said it was an important step towards further professionalising women’s cricket.
“Female players at both domestic and national level devote a huge amount of time and energy to their cricket and this move recognises their commitment and contribution to cricket as Australia’s favourite sport,” Sutherland said.
“We are still working towards the day when Australia's female cricketers will be able to earn a full-time, professional living from cricket.
“But the performances of our female stars justify this step and the day will come when future, full-time professional female cricketers will look back and thank those who went before them.”
Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars skipper Meg Lanning talk about the progression of women's cricket and gender equality on and off the field
The investment will take the total Women’s Payment Fund to $2.26 million, up 36 per cent on last year.
All Women’s National Cricket League contracted players will now receive the maximum $7000 retainer, with all those signed to play in the new women’s T20 Big Bash League earning additional retainers of $3,000 to $10,000.
The WBBL clubs, which are aligned to the existing eight KFC T20 Big Bash League teams, are currently looking to sign their foundation players with the contracting window open for the inaugural season.
It’s hoped the introduction of the WBBL will help expose the country's leading female players to the next generation of Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars, with research showing women watch Twenty20 cricket – both at grounds and on television – more than other forms of the game.
“The Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars are the top-ranked women’s team in the world and clubs will be vying for the signatures of these world-class players, along with the strong emerging talent we have across the country,” Sutherland said.
“We want cricket to be the number one sport for girls and women in Australia and we believe that the WBBL can assist this goal by creating an inspiring visible pathway for the next generation of players, fans and volunteers.
“Young girls will now have more opportunities to follow in the footsteps of players such as Meg Lanning, Alex Blackwell and Ellyse Perry.”
Cricket, by its own admission, was slow to address the gender imbalance that has long existed in Australian sport.
Despite a proud history that includes nine world titles and stretches back to the first-ever women's Ashes Test in 1934, the Southern Stars have long played a secondary role to the men's team.
A disparity between male and female athletes is uniform in most sports and is also reflected in the media; a recent study from the Australian Sports Commission revealed women made up just seven per cent of all sports programming in Australia, down from 11 per cent a decade ago.
But increased professionalism and the restructuring of women's cricket at domestic level, combined with the continued success of the Southern Stars, is helping to close the gap.
Pat Howard, CA's Executive General Manager of Team Performance, said the contract restructuring and the introduction of the WBBL were part of cricket's push to become Australia's number one sport for women.
"Despite the long history, it is fair to say cricket has been conservatively and generally reluctant to promote female involvement in the game," Howard said.
"Females are incredibly valuable to cricket in all facets of the game – including as players, administrators, coaches, officials and volunteers.
"While slow to get going, we are now determined to make up for lost time.
"We are under no illusions as to the size of the challenge at hand, but we are already seeing good progress.
"We are working hard to professionalise the women’s game and the restructuring of the contracting system for female international and state cricketers has seen our elite players become some of the best-paid female athletes in the country.
“We want cricket to be the number one sport for girls and women in Australia and we believe that the WBBL can assist this goal by creating an inspiring visible pathway for the next generation of players, fans and volunteers."
Increased professionalism and a new-look competition, however, don't automatically guarantee increased visibility in the media.
Netball Australia chief executive Kate Palmer says increased live broadcasts and better overall coverage of women's sport is a privilege rather than a right, and she points to cricket as an industry leader.
She says it's up to the sports themselves to provide a product that is attractive to both broadcasters and the public.
"It's never a right to get that media coverage ... we need to do a good job of marketing our sport so we get that sort of product," Palmer said.
"(The lack of coverage) is disappointing, but at the end of the day it's about us working hard to change that. Lots of sports are doing it now.
"I'm really excited about what Cricket Australia is doing with women's cricket."
Coverage of women's cricket has increased by more than 900 per cent over the past five years, including live free-to-air broadcasts of the Southern Stars matches during the summer.
The three T20 matches against West Indies last summer – played as curtain-raisers to the men's games against South Africa – attracted an average national TV audience of 110,374 on the Nine Network.
The final of the women's domestic T20 competition, played in the build-up to the men's BBL final in January, attracted an audience of 82,000 on Network Ten.
Tens of thousands of people also watched Southern Stars internationals via cricket.com.au.
Howard is well aware of the importance of providing an attractive product for broadcasters and the public, and he's hopeful that aligning the new WBBL franchises with those in the hugely popular men's BBL will expose the women's game to a wider audience.
"We are acutely aware that the gender imbalance in sports media reporting is still prevalent and we will continue to work with media to ensure that our elite players are visible," Howard said.
"We understand the importance of providing a quality product at the elite level to attract interest from the public and the media."
While increased salaries and the introduction of the WBBL are important steps forward, the success of the Southern Stars has long been a key pillar of the women's game.
Their nine World Cup triumphs – six in the 50-over game and three in T20s – even dwarfs the incredible success of their male counterparts, who won a record fifth 50-over World Cup title in March.
Player of the tournament in that victory was fast bowler Mitchell Starc, who joked earlier this month that his sole World Cup medal is still overshadowed by the four owned by his girlfriend and Southern Stars wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy.
Howard says the success of the Stars has had a big impact on female participation, which increased by 39 per cent in the 2013-14 season from the previous summer.
And the exposure of Australia's leading women's players provides visible role models for young girls wanting to play the game.
"Players such as Meg Lanning, Alex Blackwell, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy continue to be exceptional ambassadors for Australian Cricket, both on and off the field," Howard said.
"Our elite players invest a huge amount of time and energy into their cricket and they each play an important role in promoting cricket as sport for all Australians.
"We want young girls to be able to dream about growing up and following in their footsteps and for this we need a visible pathway."